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If you go down to The Vaults tonight you’re sure for a big surprise – and maybe a scream too, as Director Tony Middleton and writer Matthew Stradling bring horror to the magic scene in their theatrical magic show Master of the Macabre.
The show, drawing inspiration from the Vaudeville history of magic, features new magician on the street Benedict Barber and his dark and ghoulish autobiographical tale of woe. Through audience interaction and twisted tricks, Benedict performs the memories that stand out for him from his haunting (or is that haunted?) life story for the audience.
With its dramatic narrative structure the production is a break away from most magic shows, but Middleton is no stranger to directing theatre as well as performing and choreographing magic. Whilst featuring on the ITV 1 series Penn & Teller: Fool Us with Jonathan Ross, and the author of Performing Magic: A Handbook on Performance for Magicians, Middleton has also trained on the Birkbeck Directing Course and produced a number of shows at Riverside Studios and the Assembly in Edinburgh. So when a chance came from writer Matthew Stradling to create a magic show with an unfolding story rather than just a selection of disconnected tricks, he immediately jumped at the offer.
“For me magic is something that should be regarded as important as theatre or music and comedy – rather than a sub-genre,” explains Middleton. “I’ve grown up with magic and trained as a Director and so I’ve always been interested in the place of magic in theatre. Generally magic shows tend to hark back to jaded, faded glitzy ‘70s shows and magicians seem to be fairly obsessed with copying that genre, and I’m not entirely sure why.”
There’s no doubt that magic as an entertainment package has become increasingly popular, with multiple shows on TV from Tricked, Troy, and now and then Britain’s Got Talent all getting in on the act. There are even large West End productions for those wanting their magic fix up front – with Impossible recently completing a five week run of dates to packed out audiences at the Noël Coward Theatre. “It’s great that people go to see magic now and that there’s a magic show in the West End of that scale…but there’s no narrative drive there at all, there’s no sense than it being more than a collection of magicians on stage,” says Middleton. “I always think that magic can offer more in terms of being combined with other art forms…but it’s very difficult to do so.”
Middleton himself has been running his own show The Magic Hour every week at the Grand Royale Hyde Park, but it’s hoped that Master of the Macabre will add a darker, more gruesome string to his bow. And as he explains, much like in previous theatre productions at The Vaults, the venue’s shadowy caverns definitely work in the show’s favour – “We spent a long time thinking about the venue for it to generate the right atmosphere. You walk in there, and you’re going to immediately feel the ominous feeling we want you to feel. Everything’s a bit dark and musty, so the site specific nature of it really helps you to buy in to the premise.”
Billed as “the most terrifying magic show you’ll ever see”, Penn and Teller better watch their back – the Master of the Macabre is here and awaiting his audience.